Living in Poverty

It began last Friday with a scratchy sore throat.

Certainly a sensation I’ve had before, though not in a quite some time. Never a welcome experience.

Predictably, it followed its course: sneezing, stuffy nose giving way to the Great Run and back to stuffy. So cold – extra layers of clothing, blanket, space heater, tea – still so cold. Muscles and joints aching.

Efforts to sleep interrupted with odd thoughts and dreams. Or nose-blowing and coughs. So tired.

Feeling unable to do anything but bored doing nothing. Then sleeping uncontrollably during the day, this “luxury” permitted, having stayed home from work.

Not wanting to eat, gut rumbling. Should eat something. I must have something besides lentils here…

Yes, indeed, I have a cold.

Such a common malady – why bother to write of it? Certainly not for sympathy. Everyone gets them and many have far more serious conditions to bear.

I write because I am reminded by this experience of just how very impoverished I am. Almost all that I had planned to do over the weekend had to be set aside. Not only were my capabilities diminished but I did not want to spread the virus.

Things pile up when I am not well. Stacks of newspaper and other recyclables wait to be taken outside. My dining room table remains cluttered with the junk mail that I had promised myself I would go through. Things needed from the store – well, those have to wait.

A wise priest recently preached at a funeral service how we tend to believe that our lives are our own. But they are not. Life is given to us and life can be taken from us at any time by God. We, as believers, know that there is more to this story – but it is still our reality.

We are not in charge. We are poor.

I am not in charge. And to know that even my life is not my own is a condition of utter poverty.

I am not, of course, writing of the material poverty that many throughout the world suffer – nor am I minimizing how horrendous that is. Rather, that poverty is an outward manifestation, a visible expression of the deep poverty that afflicts us all.

When we have enough things (food, shelter, entertainments, etc.), we can live as though we are in charge and convince ourselves, at least for the time being, that we are not poor.

And it is perhaps this belief that enables us at times to believe that what we have is ours – we’ve earned it and therefore have a right to protect it from those whose need might encroach upon it. Whether it be our land, our jobs, our food or our medical resources, it is ours.

Let those others earn it, like we had to. It’s not our fault if their country is unstable. Their mental or physical problems are not our concern. We cannot go about rescuing everyone who has a problem.

We’ve made our choices and they’ve made theirs.

Or so it seems.

So it seems until God intervenes and reminds us that we are all poor. In just a moment’s time, I might discover that all the control I thought I had was never mine to begin with.

An illness. An accident. An unfair job loss.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, we too are among the poor. And we discover it was not a choice.

This poverty extends beyond the material things we believe are ours to all other domains of our lives.

It takes only the common cold to show me that I am not in charge mentally or spiritually either.

I always hate to cancel my patients’ appointments. I know people schedule them because they need them and that it can often disappoint or upset them to have to wait longer. I struggle with this but I cannot work if I cannot do so competently.

This morning, my mind was in a great fog and I knew I could not perform my job. As I attempted to notify my patients, everyone was gracious – but one dear woman was finding it difficult and needed to tell me what had been happening in her life anyway.

As she spoke, I struggled to make sense of her words. She was speaking standard English but my brain was having trouble interpreting it. Fortunately, she seemed to get some relief from the telling and I tried to sound sympathetic. I think I got the gist of it and the rest will wait a few days.

But my brain was not my own. It wasn’t working the way I wanted it to. My poverty was evident.

Yesterday, I wanted so much to participate in Liturgy despite this virus and so I attended a church nearby where I knew I could find an isolated spot. I did not want to spew my germs upon unsuspecting bystanders.

The words of the priest and Scripture droned on and I waited for them to be over. I knew they were good words but I could not feel their goodness. I knew that communion is and was the most wonderful experience I could hope for – but I could feel none of it.

In my poverty, even my spiritual life was barely my own. All I had left was The Choice.

The Choice? What is this?

In the poverty of my being, God teaches me that nothing that I believe to me mine is truly mine. All that I have and am are gifts from Him – that He may take back or suspend at any time to serve His glory.  (And how it serves His glory is completely incomprehensible to me.)

But The Choice is the one thing He does not take back.

The Choice is my will, my option of how I respond in whatever circumstances I am in – material wealth or hardship, good health or desperate illness, spiritual joy or aridity.

It may appear at times as though He has taken it back, especially when bodies or minds fail us.

But The Choice is something so fundamental to our being that it does not die with our brain cells. It is deep in our souls.

And He never takes it from us because He wants to always leave us the freedom to give it to Him – to give Him our wills, our entire selves. This Choice is one that only we can make. And we can make it when it seems that there is nothing else left, when we feel nothing and nothing seems to matter.

We can always still choose Him.

And so, I choose Him.

I choose Him knowing that I am utterly poor and destitute.

I choose Him recognizing that I have nothing to give Him but the choice itself.

And I choose Him knowing that He first chose me, loving me in my nothingness.

All glory be to Him.

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2 thoughts on “Living in Poverty

  1. albert

    I could say, been there–done that. I want to say, you describe the experience so well. But neither comment satisfies. It’s like I am going through the struggle too, right now, as I read. (Have you seen Fr. Stephen’s latest? In his terms, there’s a communion here.) I feel blessed to have the good sense–given, of course–to visit. It is late, and I am supposed to be sleeping, or praying, I should pray in the night, but now I think I am. Can inspiring, sympathetic, compassionate reading be a prayer, Mary? I believe so. Amen.

  2. mary Post author

    It is a communion and a prayer. Though I don’t enjoy the experience, I am grateful that God stops me now and then to remind me of my poverty. For, at the same time, He shows me that suffering, whether large or small, brings me into communion with Him and all of my brothers and sisters experiencing hardship. He makes good of all things.

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